Australian-born bluesman C.W. Stoneking has enough gravel in his voice to sing alongside his musical inspirations. He has the hum of Blind Willie McTell and the hoodoo of Memphis Minnie. In fact, if there was a way to travel back in time to play with them, Stoneking could probably do so seamlessly, along with a number of other blues, calypso and hokum artists of 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
“Music is already dramatic… or it can be,” says Stoneking, adding that the appeal for early blues music is different for everyone. “It’s real personal.”
For a young Stoneking, the appeal of music included singing along to Roger Miller’s 1973’s“Oh-De-Lally” from Disney’s Robin Hood. Or during high school in Sydney, where he kept pace with other local blues bands by learning to play guitar.
And though Stoneking says there wasn’t a singular moment when he found his voice, one pivotal event came in 2006 with the release of King Hokum. That album quickly earned him a nomination at the ARIA Music awards and his next album – 2008’s Jungle Blues – went on to win an ARIA award.
Since then, Stoneking’s music has been featured in Oscar-nominated films and his popularity has grown to a near celebrity level.
For all the accolades, however, seeing him perform in an intimate setting like Fernwood allows Stoneking to showcase one of most charismatic talents: telling genuine and heartfelt stories about the music he creates.
“I made one of the longest back-stories to a song that I didn’t have lyrics to – or at least not a lot of lyrics,” Stoneking says, jokingly.
When speaking about his 2014 hit song “The Zombie,” he adds, “I was just sort of talking to myself and I said this thing – ‘The Zombie.’ So then I started thinking about the history of a dance craze song – a slow dragging dance, playing with colors or flavors.”
Once his touring schedule slows down this April, Stoneking plans to get to work on a new album.
“I’ll sit down then,” he says, presumably at his Nashville home, where he might strum a few chords on his 14-fret steel resonator guitar – much like the one of Depression-era bluesman Son House – and add a few new stories to his catalog. Well, kind of new. He’s clearly an old soul.
C.W. STONEKING 10pm Saturday, Feb. 15 (doors open at 9pm). Fernwood Tavern, 47200 Highway 1, Big Sur. $33.50; 21+. 667-2121, fernwoodbigsur.com